With another weekend of hockey in the rearview mirror, Dakota Johnson and I give you our three takeaways from the last week in the ECHL, plus tell you who we would choose as the league award winners for the week.
Let’s get ‘er rollin’!
3. Brampton Surging in North Division, but Questions Remain
After a very slow start, you knew it wouldn’t take long for Colin Chaulk to figure out how to get his team rolling again. He claimed Alex Foster off the veteran scrap heap in Rapid City and over the weekend, welcomed David Vallorani back to the GTA. Combined with Brandon Marino and Chris Leville, the Beast are very close to being the prolific offensive team they were one season ago.
The issues that may keep people from going “all-in” on the ECHL’s only Canadian team, is the lack of a two-way game and their young goaltending. The Beast have allowed an average of 3.55 goals and just over 35 shots per game so far this season. Zach Fucale has started two games for the Beast this season, but those were rehab starts as he worked his way back from injury. Other than that, it appears to be a rotation of Marcus Hogberg and Andrew D’Agostini in net for the Beast.
It is clear the Beast have the offensive pieces to make it to the playoffs, but will their defense and goaltending — as currently constructed — be enough to get them deeper than they went last season? Time will tell.
2. Central Division is Up for Grabs
Heading into the season, the even-money was to bet on Toledo winning back-to-back Central Division titles and third straight.
It’s funny what happens in just three weeks.
The Walleye have lost their captain Alden Hirschfeld for the rest of the regular season (knee,) A.J. Jenks is gone for six weeks and Shane Berschbach is still on the 21-day IR recovering from his injury. Also gone are forwards Zach Nastasiuk, Mike Borkowski, and defenseman Vili Saarijarvi who all up with Grand Rapids.
In that time, the Fort Wayne Komets have surged from fifth in the division to second and have won five in a row and are 8-1-1 in their last ten games. Cincinnati and Kansas City remain in contact with the front two, just two & three points respectively behind Fort Wayne.
With the Walleye struggling, it’s clear that the Central Division is going to be up for grabs. Whether it’s going to be a two or three-horse race still remains unclear.
Of course, one cannot count out the Kalamazoo Wings, who have a knack for making a second-half surge up the standings; nor can you completely count out the Quad City Mallards, but we will know a lot more about the ducks after their seven-game stretch where they play Cincinnati & Fort Wayne exclusively between Dec 15-30.
1. What’s Up in Utah?
For the second straight year, the Utah Grizzlies have scuffled to start the season.
Even with signing offensive sensations Kyle Thomas and Greger Hanson in the offseason, the Grizzlies offense has only been able to muster an average of 2.36 goals per game (second worst in the ECHL), while allowing a full goal more (3.36). The Grizzlies power play has been brutal this season, scoring only twelve power play goals on 119 chances. The recent addition of Jon Puskar to the Grizzlies’ lineup should help with the offense problems, while Thomas remains with the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League.
Kevin Carr has been a workhorse in net for the Grizzlies, making 18 appearances on the season, sporting a 2.70 goals against average with a .910 save percentage. Fellow netmate, Angus Redmond, has a 1-4-2 record but has not played a complete game since November 24.
Right now, the team defense appears to be the Achilles’ heel for the Grizzlies. There are only six even or plus players currently in the Grizzlies’ lineup, with Erik Higby and Taylor Richart both sporting -10’s.
If the Grizzlies can somehow correct the defensive issues and get going offensively, there may be a chance for them to squeak into the top four of the division, but they have to get going quickly.
Time to hand out some virtual “hardware!”
If we were given award ballots, here are our choices for the league’s weekly awards.
Goalie of the Week – Matt Tomkins (IND): The rookie netminder made an emphatic return to the net after suffering a knee injury in the season’s opening weeks. Tomkins stopped 88 of 91 shots faced this weekend, with a 1.50 goals against average and a .968 save percentage.
Player of the Week – Justin Danforth (CIN): The rookie forward extended his point streak to 10 games with another five points in four games last week. Since the streak began on November 18 in Toledo, Danforth has 14 points (6G, 8A).
Goalie of the Week – Matt Tomkins (IND): See above.
Player of the Week – Drayson Bowman (COL): The NHL veteran of 180 games lit up the Rapid City Rush last week for seven points, scoring a goal and adding six more assists. For the season, Bowman has 24 points (6G, 18A) and points in seven straight contests.